Helping Kids Thrive in a Diverse World

When we add up the different types of diversity (religion, disability, sexual orientation, income, gender identity, primary language spoken, and others), we can see that our kids are growing up in a richly diverse world. It’s important we help them embrace and thrive in the midst of diversity!

In fact, currently one out of five Americans who are 5 and older speak another language in addition to English. For those who are 17 and younger, 22 percent are Hispanic/Latino, and 15 percent are African American. While 76 percent Americans were white in 1990, only 62 percent will be white by 2025.

According to national population projections by the U.S. Census Bureau:
• The U.S. population is becoming more racially diverse.
• The U.S. population will have more elderly people in the future.
• New immigrants will make up one-third of the U.S. population’s growth.

It’s important that we teach our kids to be interested in people and to listen to their perspectives. This doesn’t mean that they should embrace everybody. We talk about what to look for in terms of safety, and to pay attention to their “gut” if someone makes them feel uneasy. Children should be apt enough to identify when someone makes them feel uneasy, or when someone makes them feel safe, regardless of the person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other type of “differing” factor.

Talking Tips for Parents

Begin by talking about our growing diverse world. In our family, we talk about how our kids have an uncle who lives in Sweden and speaks five languages. We talk about how our extended family includes a gay person with a partner and a transgender person. We discuss the fact that we have friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian—and agnostic. We also point out that there are many different ways to form a family: through adoption, through the blending of families, through in vitro fertilization, through biological means, and more. One way isn’t better than another. They’re just different.

Talk a lot about what’s going on in the news. There are a lot of news stories about prejudice and discrimination. There are countless hate crimes. People commit suicide because of not being accepted or being bullied. A lot of the warfare around the world is due to prejudice.

Respond and React to their Questions. When my kids were young, they asked questions about people who were different from them. That’s normal for young children. They notice that people have different skin color, may talk differently, or may act different from the way they act. It’s good that they notice these differences. What’s critical, however, is how you respond and react.

Practice what you preach. Your kids will notice when you bristle or feel uncomfortable with certain kinds of people. They pay attention when your words and your actions are in sync—or when they disconnect. That’s why if you do feel uncomfortable with a certain group of people, say so. Admit that your discomfort has to do with your lack of experience. Most of our prejudices result because of our lack of interaction with certain groups of people.

Expose your children to diversity.Whenever you can, take your kids to a fair or an event that promotes diversity. After 9/11, we took our kids to a Muslim mosque. This was a mosque that opened its doors to Christians and other non-Muslims as a way to get to know them and to show that most Muslims were not terrorists. This group of Muslims had a huge feast, and they were open to the countless questions that my young children had about the way they dressed and acted.

Because of that experience, my kids are more open to getting to know their peers who don’t look or talk like they do.

And so am I.

Our world is becoming more diverse by the day. If we don’t start getting to know others who are different from us, our world will only grow more divided and contentious.
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Sources:

1. Jennifer Cheeseman Day, “National Population Projections: Population Profile of the United States,” U.S. Bureau of Census, undated.

2. Lisa A. Guion and David C. Diehl, “An Overview of Diversity,” University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Revised June 2010.

3. Anti-Defamation League, “What to Tell Your Child about Prejudice and Discrimination,” Anti-Defamation League, 2001.

I think the most important point of this article is to expose your children to diversity as often as possible. I think if they are exposed only once in a while, they might not become as acclimated to people who are different than them. I agree with the article in that exposing our children to this is so important. I’m lucky that my children find other cultures interesting. We live near the Dallas cultural center, which teaches about the local Chickasaw Nation. My kids love going to the center! I encourage parents to find similar places like this where your kids can learn about diversity and other cultures in a fun way.

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As a ‘white’ person…I would like to add that my ‘diversity’ lands alongside of the Hispanics, Afro-amierican etc; as Ukrainian….I have many diverse friends as well; although we may appear ‘white’ ,we come from diverse groups of Scottish, Polish, Iranian, German, Dutch, Italian, Irish , Russian. I am hopeful that if we are to trully embrace acceptance , that we (as people of many color/heritage) do not continue to place/stereotype “white’ as all the same as well….......

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